Agriculture committee calls for more farmer mental health supports

Government needs to reduce stress and burden on farmers, support resources, research, report says

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The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is calling for better access to mental health services from farmers and better treatment of them in stressful situations related to government.

Why it matters: Mental health has long been a difficult subject to discuss in the agriculture community. That’s changing on many fronts, including attention from government.

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The 10 recommendations were released recently after hearings held over the past year that heard from farmers and experts across the country including from Ontario.

A challenging harvest and a wet and cool spring that has delayed planting has increased stress in the farming community, in Ontario.

The 70-page report looks at mental health metrics in the general population and then at the trends in the agriculture community. It identified numerous stressors that farmers have to manage, including:

  • Volatile markets
  • Long hours worked
  • Lack of sleep
  • Weather, leading to uncertain yields
  • Family agreements
  • Unreasonable personal goals
  • Administrative burden and paperwork
  • Equipment breakdown

The are no comprehensive statistics about mental health in agriculture, so the committee relied on personal testimony from farmers, including Stewart Skinner, a hog farmer from Listowel, Ont. The committee also heard from Andria Jones-Bitton, a University of Guelph professor who conducted a survey that looked at farmers’ perceptions of their mental health.

The recommendations include:

  • Asking the government to reduce the stress around audits and labour reviews, including timing and their effect on family farm viability.
  • The government consider the timing and impact on farmers of regulatory change, especially timing that helps mitigate stressors.
  • That the government develop public awareness campaigns and strategies to combat the growing incidence of cyber bullying, intimidation, and threats targeted at Canada’s agricultural workers which results in a significant increase in stress.
  • That the government accelerate the expansion of high speed internet in rural areas.
  • That mental health care and insurance coverage be better tailored to farmers.
  • The government invest in educating business partners and other stakeholders who work with farmers to detect the signs of psychological disorders and distress in order to refer them to resources that can help them.
  • That future farmers be made aware of the challenges they may face.
  • That federal, provincial and territorial leaders fund accredited organizations that provide mental health services for farmers.
  • That the federal government coordinate research and prevention strategies around mental health for farmers.
  • The federal government facilitate, co-ordinate and promote telephone help lines and e-mental health services for farmers and Canadians living in rural areas.

Mental health resources available

This wet and slow planting season has created more stress than usual for farmers. Here are some resources if needed:

Source: The Do More Agriculture Foundation

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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